What is Partial Pericardiectomy?

The pericardium is a membrane that covers the heart and protects it from outside interference. It does this by both providing a physical barrier between the heart and the other organs within the chest (as well as debris entering the body via a penetrating injury) and by slightly lubricating the heart with fluid that makes it easier for the muscle to constantly expand and contract. If however, the pericardium becomes compromised in some way, it may become appropriate for a vet to remove a portion of this tissue in a procedure known as a partial pericardiectomy. By doing this, the vet can remove a diseased or damaged portion of the membrane but allow the rest of the tissue to continue functioning.

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Partial Pericardiectomy Procedure in Dogs

Before the surgery can begin, the vet will use an ultrasound scan to double-check the location of the targeted segment of the pericardium. The next step is to give the dog a general anesthetic before shaving and disinfecting a patch on their chest in preparation for an incision to be made. The vet will make a cut either straight through the animal's sternum, or alongside it, moving the ribs aside as necessary in order to reach the heart. Depending on the level of circulatory congestion the dog is experiencing, the surgeon may also have to drain some fluid from the chest cavity in order to clearly view the internal organs. They will then carefully cut away the diseased part of the pericardium from the heart and the rest of the tissue will be evaluated for signs of further problems. Finally, the vet will wire the dog's ribcage back in place and suture their incisions shut. In some cases, the vet may be able to use an endoscope (“keyhole surgery”) to perform a much less invasive form of surgery, dramatically improving the dog's recovery times and lessening the chances of complications arising.

Efficacy of Partial Pericardiectomy in Dogs

A partial pericardiectomy is an incredibly effective way to relieve restricted blood flow caused by constrictive pericarditis. The lack of a segment of the membrane will have virtually no impact on the performance of the heart or the dog's lifespan. Still, some owners may feel uncomfortable having surgery performed on such a vital organ and may prefer to look for alternatives. Whilst treatments such as diuretic drugs can be used to lessen the symptoms of congestive heart failure, they will not address the underlying condition. Corticosteroid injections can be used to treat minor scarring of the pericardium, but beyond a certain point they will prove ineffective, making surgery the safest option in the long term.

Partial Pericardiectomy Recovery in Dogs

After the operation has been completed, the dog will need some time to recuperate. If the procedure was performed via keyhole surgery, then the animal should only need a couple of weeks before it is able to return to normal. If the chest needed to be opened, however, the dog could need over a month to fully recover. Older dogs will need to be allowed even more time. The dog will also need regular doses of painkillers and antibiotics, as well as regular visits to the vet in order to make sure that they are healing properly and their condition is improving. It is advisable for owners to restrict the dog's levels of activity for the first few weeks after the operation, in order to allow the heart time to adequately heal.

Cost of Partial Pericardiectomy in Dogs

There are several main factors that can influence the price of having a partial pericardiectomy carried out. Namely the age of the dog, the availability of qualified surgeons in the area, and the method used to carry out the procedure. In all, dog owners can expect to pay between $800 and $1,500 to have the surgery performed. This is mainly due to the high level of precision demanded of the surgeon. By way of comparison, alternative treatments such as diuretics and steroid injections will cost much less per dosage, but will eventually cost far more over time if the condition is not resolved. 

Dog Partial Pericardiectomy Considerations

Whilst the procedure provides permanent relief for constriction of the heart by the pericardium, some owners can have reservations about asking a vet to perform such a major surgery on their pet. The main reason is usually because of a fear of damage to the heart occurring without the full pericardium in place. Whilst it is a helpful aid to the function of the heart, the membrane is not essential - an animal that has had a partial pericardiectomy will still be able to live a long life and perform vigorous exercise. The second most common worry is regarding a perceived risk of infection. Though by following the correct aftercare procedures and providing the dog with antibiotics, owners can eliminate much of the associated risk.

Partial Pericardiectomy Prevention in Dogs

Many of the dogs that develop constrictive pericarditis will have it as a result of a genetic defect, with it being almost impossible to detect before symptoms present themselves. However, damage to the heart from poisonings, infections and even direct injury can cause the condition to appear, so paying attention to changes in a dog's behavior and seeking the appropriate veterinary advice can catch the problem in its early stages, making it much easier to treat.